While we await a decision from Malik Zaire regarding his destination of choice to play one last year of college football, let’s occupy some time by going position by position to decide the best players in University of Florida history.
We’ll start with the quarterbacks:
Steve Spurrier: In his day, Spurrier’s stats were borderline outrageous for the Southeastern Conference. He threw for 4,848 yards (7.0 per attempt) in three seasons with 36 going for touchdowns as the Gators went 23-9 with a 1965 loss to Missouri in the Sugar Bowl and a 1966 win over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, the first time UF had ever played in bowl games other than the nearby Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. Spurrier was considered the nation’s most dangerous passer when he won the Heisman in 1966 but it was hit foot that probably cemented the trophy. His game-ending 40-yard field goal that beat Auburn will go down as one of the most dramatic plays in UF and college history and it swayed the voters away from Bob Griese at Purdue.
John Reaves: When Reaves’ career ended in 1971 he was the all-time passer in collegiate history with a then record 7,549 yards (6.7 per attempt) to go with 54 touchdowns. His best year was as a sophomore when he led UF to a 9-1-1 record while throwing for an almost (at the time) unheard of 2,896 yards and 24 touchdowns. That was Ray Graves’ last year as UF’s head coach. Douglas Adair Dickey spent the next two years trying to make a veer quarterback out of Reaves and the numbers declined as did UF’s on the field success. Reaves does hold one record that will never be broken – nine interceptions in a single game against Auburn in 1969.
Wayne Peace: Peace started as a true freshman, helping Charley Pell and the Gators bounce back from the 0-10-1 disaster of 1979 to an 8-4 record and Tangerine Bowl win in 1980. In his four years, Peace threw for 7,206 yards (7.3 per attempt) and 34 touchdowns while becoming the first UF QB to take the Gators to four straight bowl games.
Kerwin Bell: Here’s some trivia for you. Did you know there are two famous Kerwin Bells in college football history? The first was a running back who gained 1,114 yards at Kansas in 1980 and finished his injury-filled career with 1,970 yards. The second Kerwin Bell was a walk-on from tiny Mayo, who only became the starter when Dale Dorminey wrecked his knee the week before the 1984 season opener with 1983 national champ Miami. He threw for 1,614 yards (8.8 per attempt) and 16 touchdowns as a freshman when he was named SEC Player of the Year. The Gators went on probation that year so Kerwin never got to play in a bowl game. His best year statistically was 1985 when he threw for 2,687 yards (9.3 per attempt) and 21 touchdowns. His stats in 1986-87 (combined 19 touchdowns and 20 INTs) reflect a UF roster depleted by sanctions. For his career, Kerwin threw for a then school record 56 touchdowns and 7,585 yards (8.0 per attempt).
Shane Matthews: He was the sixth string quarterback who was suspended at midseason as a redshirt freshman. His offensive coordinator that year was Whitey Jordan, who was blessed with the imagination of an amoeba. Things changed the next year. Matthews won the job as the starter in the spring of 1990 because he was the only quarterback who could master Steve Spurrier’s new offense. He threw for 2,952 yards (7.8 per attempt) and 23 touchdowns while winning SEC Player of the Year in 1990 and repeated the honor in 1991 when he passed for 28 touchdowns and 3,130 yards (8.7 per attempt). For his career, Matthews threw for 9,287 yards (7.7 per attempt) and 74 touchdowns while leading the Gators to a 28-8 record.
Danny Wuerffel: After a redshirt year in 1992, Wuerffel threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Chris Doering with eight seconds to go against Kentucky in the second game of the season. He started the next game and led the Gators to a 41-34 win over 5th-ranked Tennessee. It wasn’t until the Gators lost to Auburn in 1994 that Wuerffel became the starter for good. As a junior Wuerffel was on the Heisman podium after a season in which he threw for 3,266 yards and 35 touchdowns. As a senior, he won the Heisman and led the Gators to the national championship by throwing for 3,625 yards and 39 touchdowns. Career numbers are spectacular – 10,875 yards (9.3 per attempt) and 114 touchdown passes. The Gators went 45-6-1 in Wuerffel’s career and captured four consecutive SEC titles.
Doug Johnson: Johnson had a stubborn streak. If he hadn’t played for a coach as tough on quarterbacks as Spurrier, he might have had a brilliant career. As it was, Dougie still put up fine numbers. He was a backup to Wuerffel as a freshman in 1996 and was a three-year starter after that, throwing for 7,114 yards (7.8 per attempt) and 62 touchdowns. The Gators went 29-8 in his three years as a starter.
Rex Grossman: After a redshirt year in 1999, Rex took over for Jesse Palmer midway through the 2000 season after the Gators took it on the chin, 41-35, at Starkville. Starting with the LSU game (Gators won 41-9), he lit up defenses and took the Gators to the SEC championship and the Sugar Bowl while throwing for 1,866 yards (8.8 per attempt) and 21 touchdowns. As a second year starter in 2001, Grossman should have won the Heisman (given to Eric Crouch of Nebraska for lifetime achievement) after a season in which he threw for 3,896 yards (9.9 per attempt) and 34 touchdowns while taking the Gators to the Orange Bowl. Spurrier departed after that season and in his one year starting for Ron Zook, Grossman threw for 3,402 yards (6.8 per attempt) and 22 touchdowns. His career numbers were 9,164 yards (8.3 per attempt) and 77 touchdowns. The Gators were 28-10 in his three years.
Chris Leak: Leak promised a national championship when he signed with the Gators and he delivered in 2006. In between signing in 2003 and that national title there were some speed bumps such as going from a pro-style to a spread option offense when Urban Meyer became the head coach, but Leak handled all the adversity quite well and it paid off in 2006 when he threw for 2,942 yards (8.1 per attempt) and 23 touchdowns. His best statistical year was as a sophomore in 2004 when he threw for 3,197 yards (8.0 per attempt) and 29 touchdowns. Leak’s career numbers are a school record 11,213 passing yards (7.7 per attempt) and 88 touchdowns. In his four years as a starting QB, the Gators went 37-14.
Tim Tebow: Quarterback at UF has been an adventure since Tebow’s four years on the job but what a great four years he delivered. As Florida’s short yardage runner and Leak’s backup in 2006, Tebow threw for five touchdowns and ran for eight. Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 as a sophomore when he threw for 3,286 yards (9.4 per attempt) and 32 touchdowns while running for 895 yards and 23 more TDs. He led the Gators to the 2008 national championship when he passed for 2,746 yards (9.2 per attempt) and 30 touchdowns while running for 673 yards and 12 TDs. Even though the numbers weren’t as spectacular, Tebow was a much better QB in 2008 than 2007. He came back for his senior season and accounted for 35 touchdowns (21 passing and 14 rushing) while throwing for 2,895 yards (9.2 per attempt) and rushing for 910. The career numbers are staggering – 9,285 passing yards (9.3 per attempt), 88 touchdowns; 2,947 rushing yards, 57 touchdowns. The Gators went 48-7 in his four years, 35-6 as a starter.
GATORS WILL PLAY FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS NATIONAL TITLE
The third time was a charm for the Gators as they knocked off Vanderbilt, 4-2, Monday evening in Athens in the semifinals of the NCAA Womens Tennis Championships. The Gators won the doubles point and after Belinda Woolcock won #1 singles, Vandy tied the match with two straight singles wins, but Florida won the final two singles points with Anna Danilina and Brooke Austin securing the win.
The Gators will play the winner of Ohio State-Stanford in the championship. During the regular season, Florida beat both Stanford and Ohio State.
SOME FLORIDA FOOTBALL HISTORY
Prior to the arrival of Ray Graves in 1960, the two most successful coaches in Florida football history were General James A. Van Fleet and Charlie Bachman. What you might not know is their connections to history and to each other.
Van Fleet, who grew up in Bartow, earned an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. While at West Point, classmates included future president Dwight D. Eisenhower, future five-star general Omar Bradley and future University of Tennessee football coach General Bob Neyland. Van Fleet served under General Blackjack Pershing in World War I and post war accepted a position as head of Army ROTC at Kansas State. At K-State he was an assistant football coach under Charlie Bachman, the former Notre Dame All-American who played collegiately with Knute Rockne. From K-State Van Fleet was transferred to the University of Florida, where he headed the ROTC program and became the head football coach. Van Fleet went 12-3-4 in his two years before leaving for an active duty assignment in the Army. Van Fleet never coached football again but made his mark as one of Patton’s generals in World War II, in stopping the communist insurrection in post-war Greece and then winning in a campaign against superior Chinese and North Korean forces in the Korean War. He is the only American general with statues in two countries (Greece and Korea). In Korea, the highest honor for a graduate of their version of West Point is the James Van Fleet Award.
Bachman spent eight years as the head ball coach at Kansas State before replacing Tom Sebring as Florida’s head coach in 1928. Sebring, who played college football at K-State for Bachman, was Florida’s coach while attending law school. Upon graduation, he never coached again but made his mark as one of the judges at the Nuremburg Trials after World War II and as a Florida Supreme Court justice.
Taking over the players that Sebring had recruited, Bachman went 8-1 in 1928 and 8-2 in 1929, his best two seasons out of the five he was Florida’s HBC. The 1928 Gators went into the final game of the season in Knoxville unbeaten and untied, believing they would go to the Rose Bowl if they beat the Vols, who were coached by Bob Neyland. As legend has it, there was a drought engulfing eastern Tennessee but miraculously, the night before the game there was a torrential downpour and even more miraculously, the rain only fell on the UT football field. The much faster Gators didn’t bring any mud cleats. Neyland just didn’t have enough to lend out and all the sporting goods stores in Knoxville just happened to be closed. Bobby Dodd blocked the extra point that would have tied the game and Tennessee won, 13-12. As it turned out, Georgia Tech, also unbeaten, had already accepted the Rose Bowl invitation and would go on to beat California, 8-7, thanks to Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels picking up a fumble and running 69 yards the wrong way to the Cal one-yard line. On the next play, Georgia Tech scored a safety to win the game.
Bachman’s 1928 Gators were one of the highest scoring teams in the country (336 points in a 10-game season) and they only gave up 44. The Tennessee loss was the only time a team scored two touchdowns in a game against UF. The next season the Gators’ only losses were to Georgia Tech and Harvard.
From there it was three seasons of decline so when Michigan State offered Bachman the head coaching job in 1933, he accepted. Bachman was 27-18-3 in his five years with the Gators. At Michigan State he went 70-34-10.
Bachman’s son, Charles Bachman III, who attended grade school in Gainesville, went on to become one of the earliest developers of computer database management systems while working for Dow Chemical, General Electric and Cullinet before starting Bachman Information Systems. He remains one of the most honored and decorated computer engineers in history.
GATORS MAKE IT TO MATCH PLAY ROUND OF NCAA
The Gators posted the third best round of the day (+4, 292) to move up seven places on the leaderboard Monday and into a fifth place tie with Southern California at the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships. The top eight teams advance to match play, which begins today with the Gators facing Arizona State in the morning quarterfinals. Winners in the morning advance to afternoon semifinals with a head-to-head battle for the NCAA championship on Wednesday.
You have to like Florida’s chances to advance. The Gators started out the tournament at an almost disastrous +32 but they trimmed 18 shots on Sunday and then another 10 shots on Monday to vault into the top eight. None of the other top eight teams had to come from so far back to make it into the match play and none of them showed as much daily improvement.
The Gators are the only SEC team in the final eight. South Carolina went +22 on Monday to drop four spots to #10. Alabama, which entered the tournament as the #2 seed, shot a -1 on Monday but the Crimson Tide was +65 in the first two rounds.
Florida State went to the tournament as the #5 seed. The Seminoles finished in a tie for 20th at +80.
Former Gator All-American safety Matt Elam was arrested in Delray Beach Monday on charges of grand theft and battery. This is Elam’s second arrest this year. He was arrested in Miami on drug charges in February.
Rick Barnes completed his basketball recruiting class at Tennessee by landing grad transfer James Daniel from Howard. In 2016, Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer when he averaged 27.1 points per game. He played only two games last season due to an ankle injury that required surgery.
Jontay Porter (6-10, 240, Columbia, MO) will go ahead and skip his senior season in high school after all for the chance to play with older brother Larry Porter Jr. at Missouri. Jontay is averaging 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game playing for MoKan Elite on the Nike AAU circuit.
Emmanuel Akot (6-6, 190, Winnipeg, Canada/Mt. Pleasant, Utah, Wasatch Academy) has reclassified for 2017 and will join Arizona’s recruiting class. Akot almost certainly assures that Pitt grad transfer Cameron Johnson will sign with Kentucky.
Former South Carolina quarterback Brandon McIlwain will transfer to California where he plans to play both football and baseball. In eight game and three starts as a true freshman at South Carolina last year, McIlwain was 62-118 passing for 600 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 127 and two more TDs.
The New York organization 100 Suits for 100 Men has organized a show of solidarity on behalf of out of work quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick donated 50 of his suits to the organization that helps parolees get back into the work force.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
How would you rate the best quarterbacks in Florida football history?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Now that Sirius/XM has a Beatles channel, I find it hard to listen to anything else. Today’s music is “Help,” which was released in the summer of 1965 and, like all Beatles albums, quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard charts. “Ticket to Ride” and “Help” both were #1 singles but the song I always remember the album by is “Yesterday” (also a #1).